AOA and AFOS Slam Proposed Elimination of Eyecare Services by U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

By

Andrea Thau, OD, president, AOA.

ST. LOUIS—The American Optometric Association is up in arms about a report that the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is considering eliminating the VA Optometry Service.

According to a report published on the website DisabledVeterans.org on May 4, Secretary of Veterans Affairs David Shulkin, MD said in a recent closed door meeting with VA health care directors that the VA “should get rid of audiology and optometry since there are “LensCrafters on every corner.”

Andrea Thau, OD, president of the American Optometric Association (AOA) slammed the reported comment as being “outrageous and unacceptable,” adding that “the AOA sincerely hopes that the information within the account is false. America's veterans need and deserve the assurance that their eye health and vision care needs will be met by doctors of optometry through the advanced, high-quality care we provide. In 2017, bias and outdated thinking have no place at the VA or any government agency. The Secretary should know that the solution to his department's problems will not be found in policies that compromise care. On behalf of all of the patients who've bravely served our country, I've asked to meet with Dr. Shulkin to make absolutely certain that this report is false, and to discuss the changes the VA needs to make to fulfill its mission.”

In addition, Lindsay Wright, OD, executive director of the Armed Forces Optometric Society (AFOS) expressed her association’s concerns. “The Armed Forces Optometric Society is shocked to hear of the alleged suggestion by the Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs to eliminate eyecare from the VA’s health care system,” said Dr. Wright.

“Eyecare is an essential and core component of the integrated health care the VA provides our nation’s Veterans,” Dr. Wright continued. “Our VA doctors of optometry see more patients per year than any other health care specialty. Doctors of optometry are literally on the front line of care, often being the first health care professional to identify or detect systemic health issues in veterans. VA doctors of optometry work in concert with the VA’s other health care professionals in the management of numerous medical conditions that can affect the eye such as diabetes and hypertension. This interprofessional communication to effectively coordinate care not only ensures that our veterans receive the best possible care, but it also provides an economical and efficient path for veterans to receive their health care.

In addition, VA doctors of optometry are the primary providers of visual rehabilitation for veterans who are blind and those that have sustained traumatic brain injury, services uniquely provided by the VA health care system. To eliminate or segregate eyecare from the VA would cause a significant degradation of the level of care provided to VA patients and ultimately break the government's longstanding promise to care for our nation’s veterans.”